Good news for farmers
When it comes to climate change, there is one class of technology that promises a solution different from all the others. Known as pyrolysis, it results in energy generation, soil improvement and the permanent withdrwawal of CO2 from the atmosphere, all at the same time.
Pyrolysis is an everyday phenomenon that involves the heating of biological matter in the abscence of oxygen. It occurs when the outer layers of the biomass oxidises (burns), but the inside does not. Charcoal, composed chiefly of carbon, is a product of pyrolysis. Modern pyrolysis is a simple and very sophisticated means of making charcoal. Any biological material-crop waste, animal manure, and even human sewage-can be used as feedstock.
When we grow trees to offset the carbon emissions created by the burning of fossil fuel, we are really trading a very secure form of carbon sequestration (oil and coal can stay buried for many millions of years) for a less secure form of storage. The carbon stored in a tree is volatile in the sense that if the tree rots or burns, the carbon will be quickly released back into the atmosphere.
When we turn biomass into charcoal, we transform much of that carbon from something volatile to something inert. Ploughed back into the soil, charcoal won’t readily rot or burn.
Pyrolysis machines operate at a variety of scales, from those capable of processing just 50 kg per hour, to those which process up to 4000 km per hour. Machines can be made transportable.
While some of the synthetic gas generated by the process is required to run the machine, there is usually a lot left over, which can be used to generate heat or electricity.
Charcoal is very porous, and its pores contain residual nutrients and minerals.Charcoal holds moisture, meaning that plants have better access to water and nutients. Fertilisers become more efficient, and the farmer needs to use less of them.
So why is pyrolysis not more widely used? It all comes down to cost. Farmers need to be recognised as being part of the climate change solution, and need to be able to earn money for their efforts. An emission trading scheme needs to recognise pyrolysis as an essential form of sequestration. Farmers in Eden-Monaro are going to struggle with climate change, and pyrolysis offers them a ticket to the future.
2009 a big year for CEFE
So far, 2009 has been an outstanding year of activity for Clean Energy for Eternity throughout rural SE New South Wales and in Sydney’s Manly and Mosman Council precincts. Bombala and Cooma-Monaro Shire Councils have now formally adopted the CEFE 50/50 by 2020 campaign. A Cooma working group has released an Action Plan for public comment and a new CEFE Chapter is forming in the ACT.
“With the current volatility of the markets and financial instability it’s tough for many individuals and families, particularly where drought and decreasing supplies of water are taking their toll on farming communities and regional centres. So it’s exciting to see CEFE moving forward into a new phase, one that will bring new investment, training and employment opportunities into our region,” said Dr Matthew Nott.
Over 1,200 households have embarked on installing solar panels since the Solar Bulk Buy Program was launched in Bermagui in March. CEFE has worked with Pyramid Power in the south and Energy Options north of Bawley Point obtain approvals for solar installations across four Shires. Despite the sudden demise of the Federal Government’s solar rebate scheme, this program has created a large number of local jobs and earned free solar panels for 16 public buildings. There could be no better way to illustrate the strong support of our 50/50 by 2020 Campaign.
Progress with CEFE’s Community Solar Farm project has been slow but significant, with the feasibility study completed. The solar farm team is now in dialogue about solar farm eligibility with officials from both the NSW and the Federal Government Solar Credits Schemes. Once these aspects of the business case are clarified, the project will have a chance to really show its colours as a replicable model for community solar.
The 2009 Life Saving Energy Big Swim series raised funds for the installation of solar panels on St John’s Church Bega, Jindabyne Surf Club and the Tathra Primary School, along with other many local renewable energy projects.
Clean Energy for Eternity will have a strong presence at the first Bega Valley Festival being held on 20th, 21st and 22nd November. An expanded Clean Energy Expo in the Bega Town Hall will present the latest in renewable energy products, technology and information over two days. The Keynote Speakers Forum will have several fascinating speakers, including a lively and interesting debate moderated by Tim Holt President between Matthew Nott and a climate change skeptic.
And don’t miss the gala event of the Festival! – the CEFE Solar Ball at the Bega Showground Pavilion on 21st November.
IT’S A START
It has been a big couple weeks in world politics when it comes to climate change in Australia. Two weeks ago, the Federal Government’s Emission Trading Scheme (ETS) was defeated in the Senate. This came as no suprise to most people. There are some problems with the ETS, with inadequate emission reduction targets, excessive compensation to the big polluters, and not enough help for farmers.
Last week the Renwable Energy Target (RET) was decoupled from the ETS to allow its vote into legislation. On Thursday 20/8/09 a 20% RET was passed unopposed in the senate and house of representatives. That means that 20% of Australias electricity will be sourced from Renewable energy by the year 2020.
This RET is the single biggest piece of climate change legislation ever passed in Australia. The law will provide enough clean electricity to power the households of all 21 million Australians. It will unleash 28,000 jobs and 28 billion in new investment over a decade. These are big numbers.
The RET has huge implications for Eden Monaro. A lot of the $28 billion will be spent in regional areas. Eden Monaro has been proactive about climate change, and we want a slice of the $28 billion that is up for grabs. That is a shot in the arm for the community owned solar farm that CEFE have been working on for the past 12 months. It is a shot in the arm for local wind farms, and it may just open the way for some exciting developments for bulk buy deals on solar panels and solar hot water. It opens the door for wave technology for Eden and biomass generation for the dairy industry.
The Federal Government’s Renewable Energy Target will create jobs in SE NSW; it will provide investment opportunity in our part of the world, and it will allow Eden-Monaro to establish itself as a leader in renewable energy technology. The RET makes our region’s 50/50 by 2020 target look like a shoe in.
However, it is only a start. According to the Climate Institute, the RET will achieve only one-12th of the cut in emissions needed for the overall goal of a 25 per cent reduction on 2000 levels, the figure to which the government and opposition have committed if there is a comprehensive international agreement.
We still have a long way to go! An Emission Trading Scheme is vital if we are going to successfully transition to a low carbon economy. That scheme must have strong targets, and the big polluters must share the burden.
Plan B on Immediate Climate Action
Now we enter another round of negotiations and recriminations, which may hammer out a political compromise as we draw closer to the international climate talks in Copenhagen in December. Whether the tinkering and trade-offs lead to a better end result is time critical for Australia, as the world moves closer to irreversible global warming.
One thing is clear. It is a very good move that the Government heeded calls to separate the Renewable Energy Target (RET) Act from the defeated CPRS so it can pass into law and enable the renewable energy industry to move forward. On election, the Rudd Government promised a national target of 20 per cent (45,000 GWH) renewable energy by 2020.
Following the Senate’s deferral of the RET bill in June the price of Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) saw a sharp fall and according to the Clean Energy Council the delay in providing certainty was costing the clean energy industry more than $2 million a week. Some commentators now suggest that the expanded renewable energy target, together with energy efficiency measures, could kickstart $28 billion worth of new investment and 28,000 new clean jobs over the next decade.
With Australia’s emission trading scheme on hold, it is timely to look around at other possible transition strategies. On 9th July the USA announced some $3 billion in direct payments for renewable energy projects through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. This program will support approx 5,000 bio-mass, solar, wind, and other renewable energy production facilities – the investment is seen as an important avenue to contribute to economic development in rural and urban communities.
A collection of climate and environment groups representing more than 400,000 Australians published “Plan B: An Agenda for Immediate Climate Action” (see apo.org.au/research/plan-b-agenda-immediate-climate-action ). This plan outlines immediate solutions for energy efficiency, renewable energy, sustainable transport and forest protection that could be implemented over the next two years. It aims to build Australia’s capacity for halving our emissions over the next decade and increase Australia’s resilience to the harsh impacts of climate change.
Speaking of resilience, those interested in the potential impacts of carbon trading on agriculture and forestry should track down a recent review from the Bureau of Rural Sciences on “Soil carbon for carbon sequestration and trading” adl.brs.gov.au/brsShop/html/brs_prod_90000004145.html. Whatever happens in Canberra this week, these long term issues of adaptation and transition will continue to be crucial for Australian rural communities for a long time to come.
Dirty coal is not cheap
A new study published by the University of Technology in Sydney this week supports what Clean Energy For Eternity have been saying for three years. The study looked at different scenarios for NSW’s growing energy needs, ranging from building more coal-fired power stations, to a large energy efficiency campaign combined with more renewable power.
It found building baseload power using coal was much more expensive than focusing on energy efficiency and tapping into a network of small “co-generation” renewable power sources. Building more coal fired power stations is not just bad for the environment it is also bad for NSW consumers’ hip pockets according to the report.
“Even though we decided to be very conservative in our estimates of costs for coal, it still shows that there is no reason why we should see coal as cheap, and renewable power as expensive – it’s more interesting than that,” said Chris Dunstan, a researcher at the university’s Institute for Sustainable Futures. That conclusion was reached without factoring in the increased costs to fossil fuel generators that would be imposed if Australia brings in a carbon trading scheme. Carbon trading is expected to raise the costs of greenhouse-intensive power like coal even more.
The study has found that reducing greenhouse gas emissions through energy savings and generating power close to where it is used could cut total power bills in New South Wales by about $600 million per year by 2020 – equivalent to about $60 per household per year.
“Even if we ignore all the economic and environmental costs of greenhouse gas emissions, the more environmental friendly approach is still less costly over the next decade,” Mr Dunstan said. “This report challenges the common view that NSW has to choose between cheap but dirty power on the one hand, and costly greenhouse emissions reductions on the other,” Mr Dunstan said.
Building a new coal-fired power station to meet demand before 2020 would cumulatively cost up to $30 billion, while building the infrastructure to supply the grid from more local low-emissions sources plants would total about $27 billion over the next decade, the university report calculated.
I don’t think the Australian coal industry will be paying too much attention to a report like this. We will have to wait and see how the NSW state government respond.
What does an Emission Trading Scheme mean for Eden-Monaro?
An Emission Trading Scheme (ETS) will probably be introduced in Australia in the near future, as part of our nation’s response to the threat of climate change.
The ETS will impact on farming in Eden-Monaro. Ross Garnaut says in his report :
“The agriculture sector as a whole has a lower known technological and economic potential to reduce emissions intensity than other sectors of the economy. There is currently a lack of well-quantified and well-costed mitigation methods available to agriculture. The agriculture sector lacks cost-effective mitigation options for some major sources of emissions.”
Livestock farmers faced with declining profitability under higher carbon emission prices will be encouraged to sell their land to forestry plantations, or convert significant portions of farms to permanent carbon-sink forests. This all sounds pretty gloomy for farmers who are currently doing it hard with the drought. A Federal Government report looked at the impact of an ETS on farming, and found that:
* an ETS will affect agriculture both directly (through costs associated with the need to either buy permits or reduce emissions) and indirectly through cost increases elsewhere in the economy;.
* the ETS will have a significant impact on the livestock sector – farm cash income for the average beef farm would fall;
* sheep, dairy, and mixed livestock/crop farms will be affected;
* profits for all farms would fall, ranging from a fall of $6,524 p.a. for sugar farms under a full participation scenario at $25t/CO2 to $72,111 for beef at $50t/CO2.
* most of the scenarios assume limited adjustment by farmers – however there are a number of options for adjustment including moving away from emissions-intensive activities such as livestock, reducing output, planting trees and boosting productivity.
It is this final point that should give our region hope. There is money to be made for farmers who can sequester carbon, and exciting new technologies that can boost farm productivity whilst sequestering carbon.
Kevin Rudd wants an ETS up and running by 2010. The leader of the opposition Malcolm Turnbull is keen to avoid an early election, and will support an ETS, with amendments. I think a valid point Turnbull makes is that we should be providing more scope for farmers to tap into the benefits of an ETS; that is earning money from carbon credits. With an eye on the US’s equivalent legislation, the Liberals want to see opportunities for agricultural carbon offsets included for farmers. The bill already allows rural landholders to join the scheme voluntarily and earn carbon credits from reforestation, but Turnbull also wants soil carbon and other emission reduction practices on farms included. This could open the door for some very exciting technology, some of which will be discussed next week.
Too much time making a decision could be time wasted, but if a rushed ETS process means a wool grower or a dairy farmer bears a greater cost than a coal-fired power station (on the pretence of smoothing our adaptions) then we are going about things the wrong way.
Complacency is a curse
While the Global Financial Crisis absorbs the world’s attention, there are those advanced thinking countries in Europe, the United Kingdom and the U.S.A, in particular, where a sense of urgency and an inkling that perhaps we are teetering at the tipping point, has lead to measures to combat climate change.
In April 2009, in celebration of Earth Day, President Obama announced that it was time for the US to lay a new foundation for economic growth by developing clean energy technologies in wind and solar power, geo-thermal energy and clean coal technology.
“The choice we face is not between saving our environment and saving our economy — the choice we face is between prosperity and decline. We can allow climate change to wreak unnatural havoc across the landscape, or we can create jobs working to prevent its worst effects.”
As the debate heats up once more as to what causes climate change economies such as the US have sanctioned the largest investment in basic research funding in American history. To the Americans, technology and innovation are instrumental to creating a new energy sector that is not fossil fuel dependent.
As Obama said America needs to find and fund “that young guy in the garage designing a new engine or a new battery, that computer scientist who’s imagining a new way of thinking about energy.”
There’s no room for scepticism
Whether you’re a sceptic or not, whether you believe that climate change is caused by human activity or just normal cyclical weather patterns – is not the debate. We are presumably intelligent and aware individuals who only need to look around us to realise the damage that a fossil fuel dependent economy has done to the planet.
Clearly, collaborative policy, planning and execution are needed – and of course, leadership. Again, in Australia our mindset is once more to follow and not lead.
What matters is that we can no longer sustain our lifestyles, our overwhelming consumption, and the expectation that we demand a comfortable and for some, ‘luxurious’ life in the western world. It’s unsustainable and unforgivable considering most of the world is wreaked with poverty and pestilence.
What our planet can’t sustain is the continuous plume of pollutants into our atmosphere, the mindless dumping of waste in our growing landfills, the often utter disregard for the preservation of our environment and everything that survives, or attempts to survive, within it.
Taking little steps
I know that there are simple things my family and I can do to make our lives more sustainable. These are precautions that can be applied to everyday living such as turning off a light switch, turning off appliances at the wall, recycling, re-using and reducing our consumption.
And the sceptics will argue that applying these behaviours will not make a skerrick of difference in reducing our overall gas emissions. Regardless, there’s a sense of reassurance that what my family is doing is right. I’ll also know that these changes are being reflected in our energy bills: we’re not paying as much for our utilities and we’ve cut our waste by over a half!
It’s a positive step in the right direction because collectively we’ve changed our behaviours and as a result we’re also saving money!
Recently, my six year old daughter, in a speech to her year outlining the importance of saving water said: “Water is like gold, it’s precious and we need to look after it.”
That’s right “it’s precious” as are my daughters. And I’m aware that there’s a requirement for me to reinforce my generation’s need to meet our own requirements without compromising the ability of her generation to meet their needs – is this not the essence of sustainability?
No time for complacency
If charity starts at home then so does recycling, re-using and reducing. If my family can change their behaviours, than so can business. There’s a sense of urgency to act now; we can no longer remain complacent.
Outside of creating jobs, generating wealth, providing incomes, there’s an obligation for businesses, (government and the community) to consider seriously the environmental impacts of their activities.
The motivation is not just to become ‘leaner’ and more energy efficient: there are those discerning stakeholders and businesses in your supply chain who may only want to do business with a business that has adopted environmental/sustainable practices. There are also those individuals, particularly amongst Generation Y, who will scrutinise an organisation’s green credentials before they choose to work there.
We also talk incessantly about the triple bottom line – corporate, social and economic responsibility. Over the past decade, with corporate collapses and climate change, we’ve thrown corporate governance and environmental responsibility into this mix. However, we need to realise that sustainability is not just about the environment.
It’s about businesses showing leadership, and leading by example. It’s about businesses engaging their stakeholders. It’s about businesses planning ahead to become more efficient. If you, as a business owner can find a leading edge in sustainability, then other businesses may just follow your lead. What an attractive business opportunity!
But it’s not easy in NSW with a government that is grappling with a level of uncertainty with a global financial crisis, a growing population (which needs to be serviced with base load generation), a limited access to gas markets, a peaky electricity market, a delayed Carbon Reduction Pollution Scheme, and extended Mandatory Renewable Energy Targets.
What is certain is that energy costs will rise particularly as we continue to rely on fossil fuels to drive the engine room of our economy.
There are numerous stories of clever business owners (some of them featured in this edition of Business Connect) who have taken the initiative, changed their behaviours and operating methods, introduced efficiency programs, tapped into the broad range of resources available to save money, minimise their climate change risk, enhance their business image, and improve their customer and staff satisfaction.
As Rupert Murdoch stated when he launched his world-wide plan to address climate change by pledging to reduce his company’s emissions.
“The challenge is to revolutionize the [climate change] message and make it dramatic, make it vivid, even sometimes make it fun. We want to inspire people to change their behavior.”
The threat of increasing energy/water prices, general increases in costs of living, raw materials, transportation, insurance premiums, and another tax impost – a ‘green tax’ – are some of the changes that will affect every business’s bottom line. You can pass on this additional cost to your customer or be smart and look at ways to reduce, recycle and re-use – and protect your database.
The priority is not to wait. We need to act early and prepare for doing business in a carbon-constrained economy.
There’s no excuse and complacency will not help us to pay off our huge financial debt, let alone our ecological debt.
Ron Krueger, Manly CEFE